Monday, 21 March 2016

the fall

The fall is my favourite season here in Hong Kong, but to avoid confusing my American readers, I should point out that your name for autumn, while perfectly suitable as a way to describe the time of year when the leaves fall from the trees in your country, is totally inappropriate here in Hong Kong, because leaves are falling from the trees now. They didn’t in autumn. I imagine that this is an effect of the territory’s subtropical climate, because photosynthesis is possible throughout the winter, and the only reason they fall in autumn in temperate climates is because trees there go into hibernation in order to survive the winter.

To illustrate my point, I took the following three photographs yesterday morning while walking from my home to Fanling railway station:

In describing the fall as my favourite season, there is an unmentioned caveat: the transition from winter to spring is marked by a period of about three weeks when the humidity is so high that all our windows steam up, and condensation forms on our stone and tile floors and runs down the tiled walls of our kitchen and bathroom. However, once this admittedly grim period is over, the birds start singing and wildflowers pop up all over the place. Actually, thanks to the influence of El Niño this winter, birds have been singing since the start of the year—magpie robins have been in full voice since Christmas, apart from a period of a few days in late January when the intense cold shut them up. I heard one as early as 8th December, even though in a normal year they would just be starting now!

There is another negative aspect to this time of year, one that most people will not be aware of: all the leaves in the above photos will have been swept up by lunchtime and stuffed into black plastic sacks, which I have no issue with. However, these sacks will eventually end up in landfill. Nobody in Hong Kong appears to have heard of composting!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

hughie’s game

When I was a pupil at my local grammar school between 1957 and 1964, I did my best to dodge playing rugby, for reasons that I described in All Must Have Prizes. I was largely successful, and in four of those years I didn’t even set foot on a rugby pitch. However, I do recall one occasion, when I was in the sixth form, when my doctor’s note kept me off the rugby pitch, but it didn’t stop the games master, Brian McVey, sending me to walk around the senior cross-country course in the company of a friend, Hughie Taylor, who also had a doctor’s note.

The cross-country course was 7–8km long, but within 500 metres it passed under the main railway line, which was on an embankment, so even if Mr McVey had been keeping an eye on us with binoculars, he wouldn’t have been able to see what we were up to once we’d passed beyond this point. Naturally, we cut across the fields on the far side of the line to rejoin the course, thus cutting out 6–7km of needless walking.

We then had to pass some time idling about to avoid raising suspicions by returning to school too early, so we played a little game. After more than fifty years, I cannot recall the fine details of the game, but I do remember the general principles. One of us would start by saying “McVey is a …”. The other would respond by saying “McVey is a … and a …”. We probably used fairly offensive terms to describe our nemesis, but what precisely these were I no longer have any idea. However, we also used quite a few made-up words, and I can actually remember some of these, so I will use them to illustrate how the game was played:
Hughie: McVey is a peroot.
Me: McVey is a peroot and a prannock.
Hughie: McVey is a peroot and a prannock and a maroot.
Me: McVey is a peroot and a prannock and a maroot and a ….
And so on. The loser of the game was the first person to misremember the sequence as it grew longer, although who actually won this particular game I cannot now recall. In fact, we probably played the game several times anyway.

If you’ve read Memory Games and Memory Games #2, you will know that my previous suggested tests of memory are solo games, a kind of mental solitaire, so I thought that a competitive game was needed to provide some balance, and Hughie’s game could well provide some amusement in a social situation. It was originally a two-player game, and this is probably the optimum number, but there is no reason why more players couldn’t be involved, especially if the game is fuelled by alcohol. Smoking cannabis before a game probably isn’t a good idea.

Instead of using nouns to describe the object of derision, in this updated version of the game, I propose to use adjectives. Having watched from afar, with increasing dismay, the inexorable rise of an utter mountebank towards the US presidency, I have absolutely no hesitation in using this charlatan as an example of how the game might be played by four people:
1: Donald Trump is vain.
2: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant.
3: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted.
4: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted and rude.
1: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted and rude and pompous.
2: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted and rude and pompous and bombastic.
3: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted and rude and pompous and bombastic and obnoxious.
4: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted and rude and pompous and bombastic and obnoxious and crass.
1: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted and rude and pompous and bombastic and obnoxious and crass and ignorant.
2: Donald Trump is vain and arrogant and bigoted and rude and pompous and bombastic and obnoxious and crass and ignorant and boorish.
I could add a lot more words to this sequence, but this should be sufficient to illustrate how a game might pan out. If you try this game, you could incorporate an additional rule that bans the use of inaccurate descriptors, so that someone who said “Donald Trump is compassionate” can be challenged by his opponents. If the challenge is ruled to be valid, then that player is eliminated. In a multi-player game, the last to be eliminated becomes the winner.

I still run into Hughie (not literally) when I’m in the UK, because he’s often out walking his dog when I cycle through the village where he lives. I always stop for a chat, but I don’t think we’ve ever reminisced about that day we were both able to skive off playing rugby but were ‘punished’ for doing so. I shall have to remind him the next time I see him.

Monday, 14 March 2016

art promenade

The eastern boundary of Fanling is sharply defined by Ma Sik Road, which carries a lot of heavy freight traffic. There are high-rise apartment blocks on one side, and degraded countryside on the other. Next to the junction with Wo Tai Street, there is a signpost pointing to Ma Shi Po (‘horseshit area’) and a concrete footpath that leads, eventually, to the Ng Tung River. Next to the signpost, there is a painting of a cat dressed as a farmer, which was once the door of the cat man’s hut, since demolished.

When I wrote about this hut, I did so because of the images that had been painted on the door and walls after the old man left, or been evicted. These paintings were the work of a large group of evangelical Christians who had established Ma Po Po (‘horse poo poo’) Community Farm nearby and were executed around the time that much of the land in the area was being fenced off by the property developer—Henderson Land—that owned it. The entire area will eventually be built on.

 I should mention that these Christians do not know the difference between agriculture and horticulture, and they have a romantic view of farming, the main manifestation of which is the range of artwork to be seen along the path. This is the reason for this post.

At the start of the path, there are several crude plaster sculptures of various animals and vegetables, and paintings of cats on the concrete. And where the old man’s hut used to be—now fenced off—a stylized cat has been painted on an old water tank. However, it is only when you proceed along the path that you begin to realize just how much painting has been done here.

In the next photo, you can see the lines of painted vegetables along the edges of the path (the blue line is there to guide people to the river—it’s easy to get lost if you’re unfamiliar with the area).

 The next photo is a closer view of some of the paintings on the right of the path, while the subsequent three pictures are of paintings on the left. These images are still being added to.

 At this point, there are two huts set back a few metres from the path. Both huts were decorated when the Ma Po Po ‘farmers’ first came to the area, so the paintwork is fading now. The left-hand hut has lines of snails crawling and bats flying across its façade, but the decoration on the right-hand hut is more complex:

The renderings of the magpie robin and common kingfisher are not accurate, but the whole is clearly the artist’s impression of nature in the area. This is also the likely explanation for the final three images, which are located much further on. Anyone venturing along this path on a spring evening could not fail to notice the frog chorus. The flower is a lotus.

These are currently the last images before the path reaches the river, but I would not rule out finding more such creations further on in future—I was surprised to discover the frogs so far from the main centre of activity.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

physical graffiti

I don’t often travel into town nowadays, but when I do, my attention is always drawn to the wall of an industrial building just north of Tai Wai station, which is covered in urban graffiti. I resolved to take a closer look, and last week I cycled down from Fanling to see whether there was anything worth photographing. There was.

In almost every case, I find it almost impossible to read the ‘words’ painted on the wall, but I certainly see aesthetic qualities in the examples below. And there is no doubt that a lot of work has gone into these creations. The first photo is a general view looking back along the wall, which I took after working my way along from the far end and shooting what I thought were the best ones.

The next five photos are selected examples of the graffiti along the wall. The first graffito appears to have been painted over a pre-existing artwork, parts of which remain visible on each side, while the image in the second photo has vaguely topological elements, as if suggestive of some kind of maze. In the third photo, note the words ‘Yumo Xeme’, which you might think is pure gibberish, but I’ve seen the same words, in exactly the same style, in another location, and I suspect that this is the nom de guerre of the otherwise anonymous artist.

As I was in the area, I thought that I might see where the cycle track running alongside the wall led to. The usual dead end. I often wonder what cyclists are expected to do in such circumstances, because there are only two options: either cycle on the sidewalk or join the motor traffic on a busy road. Neither is a desirable option, but there is a third, which is the one I took: go back the way I came.

The detour wasn’t entirely a waste of time. I passed a concrete bridge abutment that had more examples of graffiti emblazoned on it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to photograph everything I wanted to here, because the battery in my camera had gone flat, but here are a couple of examples from this second location. I find the second image especially intriguing.

What does it all mean?